Gator displays sprinting DNA

After eyeing football, Calvin Smith has followed in his famous father's footsteps for Florida.

Published May 23, 2007

GAINESVILLE - Sometimes, there's just no escaping fate.

Florida freshman Calvin Smith is the son of a former world-record holder who was blessed with incredible speed. But a few years ago, he thought about making a name for himself in another sport. He got to high school and decided maybe football was the sport he should pursue.

But in the end, Smith couldn't escape his destiny: He was born to be a runner. After all, it's in his blood.

A standout at Freedom High in Tampa, Smith is the son of Calvin Smith Sr., a two-time 200-meter world champion who held the 100-meter world record for four years 9.93 seconds. His father was on the gold-medal winning 4x100 relay at the 1984 Olympics and won a bronze in the 100 at the 1988 Olympics.

Smith was practically raised on the track.

"When I was growing up, my dad ... was always taking me to the track when he used to practice, " Smith said. "I grew to love it. I started running in sixth grade, but then I kind of wanted to play football."

When he graduated from Freedom (he was named to USA Today's All-High School track team), there were scholarship offers for track, but none allowed him to also play football. So Smith decided running was his best bet.

And Florida is the better for it.

When the Gators host the NCAA East regional this weekend, the 19-year-old will compete in the 400, 4x100 and 4x400. He also qualified in the 100 and 200, but the coaching staff believes his best shot at a title is in the 400.

"He has great competitiveness, " Gators coach Mike Holloway said. "Calvin does a very good job of being focused at the championship level. He did a very good job indoors of coming up big at the conference meet. I'm expecting big things from him (this weekend). He's a warrior, and he'll be ready to go."

Earlier this month, Smith became only the second freshman in school history to win the 400 at the SEC championships (Tyrone Kemp in 1989). He won in 45.74, which is third best in the nation and best among those at the East region.

A last-minute change in strategy led to his victory.

"In the prelims, I tried something I had never done before, " Smith said. "I usually kick at the last 150, but instead, I kind of gradually came into sprinting. It paid off for me because I had a (personal record) in the prelims. So I just did the same thing in the finals.

"Usually, you're not supposed to try (radical changes) at big meets. I got some new spikes ... but I told myself, 'Nah, I've never practiced or trained in them, so I better stick with my old spikes.' But I felt comfortable enough (with the new strategy) that I could still win."

The jump from high school track star to college freshman didn't come as comfortably.

There were the running circuits: 500-meter sprints with pushups in between. Then there was running with jump-roping thrown in.

"He's a typical great high school athlete, " Holloway said. "He ... had to get used to the way we train and learn the different things we do."

Smith has learned well.

Besides the SEC title, he has been part of four relay wins, two in the 4x400 and two in the 4x100. And during the indoor season, he earned All-America honors in the 400.

"I think Calvin has done very well this year, " Holloway said. "We've been very patient with him. I believe his best event is the 400, and Calvin likes to think of himself as a short sprinter. So we'll see who wins that battle."

When he began his collegiate career, Smith was intent on stepping out of his father's shadow. But as the season progressed, he came to accept his place within it.

"When I get up to the line and they call out the lane assignments at some of the bigger meets, they say, 'Calvin Smith, yes that's Calvin Smith's son, dah, dah, dah, ' " Smith said. "Then I kind of feel obligated that I have to win. That's the only time I might feel a little bit of pressure.

"But I'm okay with that now."